They are listed alongside veterans of the Indian stage. For a group of recent graduates, theatre festival Bharat Rang Mahotsav is a platform to catch the public eye. We find out what drives the new generation of directors
Voice of the People
A student of Geology in Darbhanga, Bihar, 28-year-old Shyam Kumar Sahani grew up feeling that there was a scarcity of places he could nurture his creativity. “I studied fine arts at Chandigarh’s Pracheen Kala Kendra and then entered the National School of Drama (NSD) in Delhi,” he says. Sahani’s political satire Inna Ki Awaz (pictured above), in Hindi, was performed at the Bharat Rang Mahotsav.
The play, which shows the clash between a common man who comes into power and a tyrant king in a make-believe country, has stark contemporary relevance. Sahani designed the jhuggi-jhopdi set on stage with skull-like huts. “I was looking out of a speeding metro as it passed a slum, and the structure of the place looked like a graveyard of human skulls — small, desolate jhopdis spread across an unsightly area. I like merging painting and theatre,” says Sahani.
The rural and urban disconnect interests him, he says. “I would like to explore how coming to a big city changes a small-town man. The emotional journey in itself is a reflection of the society,” he says. Theatre, he says, fulfills the need in him to meet people, know their stories, and then share their stories. “It fuels something in me that’s burning deep inside. It’s an attempt to understand and decode the world we live in,” adds Sahani.
Stars and (Comic) Strips
For a while now, Sweety Ruhel has been fascinated by political cartoons that appear in daily newspapers. So much so that the characters in her play Civili$ation on Trial imbibed the gestures, postures and expressions of caricatures and cartoons. A political satire, Civili$ation on Trial narrates the tale of Kalu Chaiwala and Merica Baba, who symbolise the relationship between India and the US.
“In the play, Kalu Chaiwala wants to meet Merica Baba, who is known to make people successful and happy. During the course of the play, he meets him and reaches out to him for help, and realises that Merica Baba has a secret chai recipe and his own little restaurant,” says Ruhel, 25. Apart from the obvious political statement, the play also makes a comment on the LGBT issue, religious babas and the financial state of the nation. Interestingly, the nine actors on stage don costumes made of newspapers, jute and plastic, lending themselves a caricatured feel.
Violence and Violation
Till a few months ago, Sourav Poddar would spend a few hours every day going through newspaper articles and lectures on the Maoist infestation in central India. These readings and stories form the script of his play, Gam-Sereng, a Santhali word for “garam hawa”, which has been staged at the Bharat Rang Mahotsav. A compilation of short stories, the play looks at corporate invasion, violation of environmental laws and the subsequent forces putting up resistance in central India. The 58-minute play is multilingual, with the 12 performers conversing in English, Hindi and Tamil.
“The audience sits on the sides of the stage and the performance takes place in the middle. This is deliberate because people are so alienated, they don’t think it’s their issue. We want them to feel that they are part of the picture, hence the seating,” says the 27-year-old, who graduated from NSD last year.
The title of the play provides the first hint to the futuristic ideas of its director. dot d@SH drE@M dE!usiON, presented on Sunday, experiments with storytelling, movements, sound and light. Instead of regular stereo sound, for instance, director Vishala Ramachandra Mahale set up the sound in different directions so that it could “travel with his characters”. “It has something to do with my upbringing,” says Mahale, adding, “I grew up watching Yakshagana performances back home, and there was always a rhythm to the movements of those actors that kept drawing me closer to theatre. The stories weren’t new, but the way things were played out always kept me interested,” says the 34-year-old from Karnataka.
Mahale plays with emotional turmoil in his experimental play that has no linear plotline. dot d@SH drE@M dE!usiON, Mahale’s final diploma project, revolves around a girl with a troubled childhood and a boy who decides to confront society about certain troubling issues. “I believe theatre should have the potential to get under your skin, and to breathe in your ears. That’s the kind of theatre that I’d like to work on,” he says.